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Avatar of GI KoreaBy on November 12th, 2012 at 3:40 am

Heroes of the Korean War: Corporal Mitchell Red Cloud Jr.

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Basic Information

  • Name: Mitchell Red Cloud Jr.
  • Born: July 2, 1924
  • Died: November 5, 1950
  • Korean War Service: 2-19 Infantry Regiment, 24th Infantry Division
  • Posthumously recognized with the Medal of Honor in 1951.

Picture of Mitchell Red Cloud Jr. in his US Army uniform. Picture via FreeRepublic.com

Introduction

For soldiers that receive orders to the 2nd Infantry Division located near the Demilitarized Zone in South Korea one of the camps that all soldiers will eventually visit or at least hear about is Camp Red Cloud. This camp is located in the commuter city of Uijongbu just north of South Korea’s capitol of Seoul. Camp Red Cloud is home to 2ID’s division headquarters and other support units. Though every soldier in the 2nd Infantry Division knows of Camp Red Cloud very few actually know who the camp is named after. I can remember when I once had a lieutenant ask me if the camp was named after the sunsets seen from the camp over the mountains in the evenings. What many people do not realize is that Camp Red Cloud is actually named after a person and not for any red clouds seen in the air. The person the camp is named for is Mitchell Red Cloud Jr. who was awarded the Medal of Honor for combat actions during the Korean War.

Mitchell Red Cloud Jr. was born on July 2, 1924 in Hatfield, Wisconsin on the Winnebago Indian Reservation to Mitchell Red Cloud Sr. and Lillian Winneshiek. Mitchell Jr. was the oldest of three boys that the couple would have. As a boy Mitchell Jr. was well known for his outdoor skills that he perfected while going on hunting and fishing trips on the reservation. Mitchell Jr.’s schooling began at the Clay and Komensky Rural School before moving on to the Winnebago Indian School for year. For high school he enrolled in the Black River Falls High School before deciding to drop out at the age of 16.

Red Cloud During World War II

Mitchell Jr. made the decision to drop out of high school because he wanted to pursue a career in the US military. Just one month after his 17th birthday he received permission from his dad to enlist in the Marine Corps. Red Cloud’s enlistment date into the Marines was on August 11, 1941. Due to his outdoors skills and physical conditioning honed from growing up on the Indian Reservation, Red Cloud excelled at boot camp and became an outstanding Marine. His first duty assignment was at Camp Elliot in San Diego when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. After the bombing Red Cloud was assigned to the 2nd Marine Raider Battalion and deployed to the Pacific to fight in World War II. In November 1942, the then Private First Class Mitchell Red Cloud found himself in heavy combat on the island of Guadalcanal which was the scene of some of the most ferocious fighting of all of World War II. Red Cloud spent a month in the jungle with the Raider Battalion fighting the Japanese on the island. After the US military was able to secure Guadalcanal from the Japanese, Red Cloud like many other personnel that served on the island became sick with the tropical diseases malaria and jaundice. He suffered extreme weight loss and was sent back to the US for medical evaluation in January 1943. The medical personnel recommended a discharge for Red Cloud but he refused. Red Cloud’s refusal to accept a discharge saw him redeployed to the Pacific theater again just in time to participate in another brutal fight against the Japanese; this time on the island of Okinawa. On May 17, 1945 while serving as a radio operator during the Battle of Okinawa PFC Red Cloud was shot in his left shoulder. He was medically evacuated to Guam for treatment before being shipped back to the US.

Picture of Mitchell Red Cloud in his Marine Corps uniform during World War II. Picture via Wikipedia.

With World War II over Red Cloud accepted his discharge from the Marines on November 9, 1945. The Marines gave him an honorable discharge and $56.70 before he returned to the Winnebago Indian Reservation in Wisconsin. While on the reservation Red Cloud got married and his wife gave birth to a daughter. Despite these personal developments in his life outside the military, Red Cloud decided after only two years on the reservation to reenlist in the US military. Red Cloud decided this time to not join the Marines, but instead the US Army in 1948. I wasn’t able to find anything definitive on why Red Cloud reenlisted in the military, but maybe he just grew restless after experiencing so much combat during World War II? Maybe it was just the more practical matter of providing for his family that caused him to reenlist in the military? His younger brother who had enlisted in the Army had just did in a peace time training accident; so maybe Mitchell enlisted in honor of his brother? Finally maybe he enlisted because after spending two years away from the Army he realized he is a true warrior and the military was his calling? For whatever the reasons were the US Army was getting an experienced soldier that was badly needed in the US military that had lost the vast majority of its combat veterans due to the post-World War II drawdown.

Red Cloud During the Korean War

The first unit Red Cloud was assign to was E company, 2 battalion, 19 Infantry Regiment of the 24th Infantry Division. The 24 ID at the time was responsible for conducting peacekeeping duties on the southern Japanese island of Kyushu. The assignment to Japan must have been easy duty for Red Cloud compared to what he had been through during World War II. However, the relaxed time he spent in Japan didn’t last long when on July 3, 1950 the 24th ID was deployed to the Korean peninsula to stop the communist backed North Korean military that had invaded South Korea. The North Korean military crossed the DMZ that separates the two countries on June 25, 1950 and appeared to be on its way to reuniting the country that had been divided by US and Russian occupation forces after World War II. US President Harry Truman however decided to militarily intervene to stop the communist invasion of the Korean peninsula and the only troops immediately available to deploy to Korea were the peacekeeping troops located in Japan. Most of these troops were draftees that had not fought during World War II and had little combat training while stationed in Japan. Though these troops were eager to fight in what was being called a “police action” at the time; it would be up to hardened World War II vets like Mitchell Red Cloud to get these guys ready for battle. Red Cloud at the time of his deployment to Korea was a 25 year old Corporal who was respected by the men in his unit due to his prior combat experience.  He had the nickname “Chief”, was easy going, and was quick to give advice to the younger troops that all looked up to him.  They would soon learn to respect him even more.

Taskforce Smith soldiers arrive in Daejon during the Korean War.

Of the four US military divisions stationed in Japan, the 24ID was chosen to be the first to deploy to Korea.  The first element of the 24th Infantry Division to arrive in Korea was the ill fated Taskforce Smith that first saw action against the North Korean military just south of Osan. The light infantry unit found themselves in battle against a foe with Soviet provided tanks and due to the superior firepower Taskforce Smith was soundly defeated.  You can read more about Taskforce Smith at the below link:

Defeat would become a reoccurring theme for the other 24th ID units who were thrown into combat against the North Koreans with little to no weapons to combat the North Korean tanks. The battlefield chaos for the 24th ID reached its climax when the Division Commander Major General William Dean was captured during the Battle of Taejon. You can read more about General Dean at the below link:

This was the chaos that Corporal Red Cloud found himself in that most have been vastly different experience for him compared to his time in World War II. During that war he had fought in many successful battles against much more dangerous enemy and now just a few years later he was part of one of the greatest military debacles in US history.
The 24th ID may have been soundly defeated by the North Koreans, but it and the other divisions from Japan that were thrown into battle, did enough to slow down the North Korean invasion until more troops from the US could arrive to help hold the Pusan Perimeter. Red Cloud and the rest of the men in the 2-19 Infantry Regiment saw combat soon after arriving in country on July 12, 1950. The unit saw combat during the defense Daejon and then moved south towards Taegu and held part of the line along the Pusan Perimeter. Eventually General Douglas MacArthur would execute his famed Incheon Landing Operation that changed the course of the war and threw the North Koreans into a massive retreat. This allowed the 24th ID to reconstitute itself and soon enough Corporal Red Cloud and the rest of the personnel in the division were crossing the DMZ into North Korea to finish the war. In November 1950 the US military and its United Nations allies who had recently deployed troops to Korea, had advanced deep into North Korea when unbeknownst to them the Chinese military had decided to come to the aid of their communist ally North Korea. The unexpected attack by the Chinese caused the US and UN forces to a massive retreat that was quickly turning into yet another military debacle. This was the state of the war that Corporal Red Cloud now found himself in as he sat in a listening post on a hill north of the Chongchon River in North Korea on November 5, 1950.

The Chongchon River can be seen at the very bottom of the map which is located just north of the North Korean capitol city of Pyongyang. To the northwest of the river the positions of the 19th Infantry Regiment on November 1, 1950 can be seen. Map via Wikipedia.

The UN forces were in retreat and the bridge across the Chongchon River was a critical asset to support the southward movement of friendly forces. The 27th British Commonwealth Regiment which had just recently deployed to Korea and Red Cloud’s 19th Infantry Regiment were both deployed on the north side of the river to defend the bridge on November 2, 1950. Due to the shortage in personnel there was a five mile gap between the two units that was to be patrolled to prevent infiltration by the Chinese. However, the patrols ended up proving ineffective as the Chinese were able to successfully probe and discover this gap between the two units.

On the night of November 5, 1950 a 1,000 Chinese soldiers from the 355th Regiment were able to follow field telephone lines laid down in this gap to the positions of the 19th Infantry Regiment. Fortunately for E Company they had someone in a listening post that night that was awake and very attentive in looking for any Chinese infiltrating towards their position on Hill 123. That man was Corporal Red Cloud. A friend of Red Cloud’s in the company, Private First Class Ed Svach would later tell how Corporal Red Cloud had once told him that he could smell the Chinese coming. Red Cloud said, “It’s like hunting those Wisconsin deer. I can smell them coming.”

Red Cloud had been in a listening post that night with his assistant machine gunner on a ridge below the company command post. Red Cloud also knew how the Chinese liked to attack. The Chinese would launch a small frontal attack to draw attention that way but the main attack force would actually be infiltrating from the sides and rear. That is why Red Cloud set up his listening post to the side and rear of the company command post. At 3:20 AM in the morning Red Cloud let out a cry when he spotted Chinese infiltrating towards the E Company position who were following the communications wire leading to the command post. After being spotted the Chinese charged Red Cloud’s position from a 100 feet away and shot and killed his assistant machine gunner. Using his Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR), Red Cloud stood up out of his listening post and unleashed direct fire into the advancing Chinese. Red Cloud’s direct fire slowed the Chinese assault and bought time for the Company Commander, Captain Conway to wake everyone up and consolidate the defense of the E Company position.  Unfortunately Red Cloud’s warning was not enough to alert everyone in the company in time because the Chinese were able to shoot some of the US soldiers in their sleeping bags.  E Company was getting over run and one veteran of the battle is quoted in John McCain’s book, “Why Courage Matters” as saying:

“I wanted to bug out.  I just couldn’t figure out how”

While Red Cloud was holding off the initial Chinese assault he was shot twice in the chest. One of the E company medics, Perry Woodley went to Red Cloud’s position and applied pressure bandages to his two chest wounds. Red Cloud seem fine and continued to fire his BAR at the Chinese. Woodley left Red Cloud to go help other wounded soldiers. He returned a short time later to check up on Red Cloud again. He found Red Cloud surrounded by about a dozen Chinese bodies and more severely wounded than from when he last saw him.

Position of the 2-19 Infantry Regiment north of the Chongchon River where Corporal Mitchell Red Cloud Jr. was killed in action. Notice the area that the Chinese infiltrated through just west of the 2-19th’s position to get into their rear area.  This was the gap between them and the British 27th Brigade which was mostly composed of Canadians that was supposed to be patrolled by both units to detect the Chinese.  Map via Wikipedia.

Woodley told Red Cloud that he had to get off the mountain or he was going to die there. Red Cloud refused medical evacuation from his position and instead propped his wounded body up on a tree to continue firing at the advancing Chinese with the BAR. One soldier at the bottom Pete Salter said that he actually used a we belt to tie Red Cloud to the tree so he could stay up right to keep firing. Something not widely known about this battle is that another man, PFC Joseph Balboni stayed in a position near Red Cloud that created a crossfire that pinned the Chinese down enough for other men in the company to try and escape down a draw to the south.

After Woodley and Salter left the position they could hear the BARs from Red Cloud and Balboni continue to fire on the advancing Chinese.  The battle lasted for about an hour before Corporal Red Cloud and PFC Balboni would eventually be killed by the advancing Chinese.  However by this time the men of E Company were well alert and retreating off the hill side from the massive Chinese assault to supplementary fighting positions a 1,000 yards to the south. From there the regiment was able to consolidate and make defensive line to hold off any further Chinese attack.  There four quad 4′s with .50 cal machine guns were used to clear the hillsides of Chinese troops chasing the E Company survivors down the draw.  Other units in the battalion would not be as lucky as E Company, if you can call E Company lucky. The nearby A Company would be nearly wiped out as many soldiers were killed while sleeping in their foxholes due to the surprise Chinese attack. E Company soldiers that survived that battle said that their unit likely would have been wiped out too if it wasn’t for Corporal Red Cloud holding off the Chinese attack.

The next morning with the sun out which provided air cover, the battalion was able to return to the old E company position to retrieve the bodies of the deceased. They found that the dead Americans soldiers had been stripped to include Mitchell Red Cloud. The only deceased soldier not stripped was 1st Lieutenant Leslie Kirkpatrick who had all of his clothes and gear on except for a missing West Point ring. Kirkpatrick had been killed while coming to the aid of a wounded soldier during the battle. His body was found with his head lying on his helmet as if he was sleeping. It is believed that one of the other lieutenants in his company placed his body like that after recovering his West Point ring to give to his wife. However, that lieutenant had been killed as well during the battle and the Chinese stripped his body and took the ring. Kirkpatrick was a 1949 graduate of West Point. Of the 670 cadets that graduated that year, 41 of them to include Kirkpatrick were killed in action during the Korean War.

Picture of Leslie Kirkpatrick as a cadet at West Point. Picture via SidneyLanier.org.

Red Cloud’s stripped down body was found lying near the tree where he died. He had been reportedly shot a total of eight times. All around Red Cloud were the bodies of Chinese soldiers. It was reported that over 30 Chinese bodies were found around Corporal Red Cloud’s position.  Corporal Red Cloud’s recovered body would eventually be laid to rest in the United Nations Cemetery in Pusan.  The other BAR gunner PFC Balboni would be credited with killing 17 enemy soldiers before being killed himself.  PFC Balboni would posthumously be recognized with the nation’s second highest honor, the Distinguished Service Cross.  In all the battalion estimated that about 500 enemy soldiers had been killed on the hill that day.

Post-Korean War Honors

A few months later in April 1951 the Congressional Medal of Honor was presented to Corporal Mitchell Red Cloud Jr.’s mother during a ceremony held at the Pentagon. She was presented the medal by General Omar Bradley. Here is what his Medal of Honor citation says:

Cpl. Red Cloud, Company E, distinguished himself by conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty in action against the enemy. From his position on the point of a ridge immediately in front of the company command post he was the first to detect the approach of the Chinese Communist forces and give the alarm as the enemy charged from a brush-covered area less than 100 feet from him. Springing up he delivered devastating pointblank automatic rifle fire into the advancing enemy. His accurate and intense fire checked this assault and gained time for the company to consolidate its defense. With utter fearlessness he maintained his firing position until severely wounded by enemy fire. Refusing assistance he pulled himself to his feet and wrapping his arm around a tree continued his deadly fire again, until he was fatally wounded. This heroic act stopped the enemy from overrunning his company’s position and gained time for reorganization and evacuation of the wounded. Cpl. Red Cloud’s dauntless courage and gallant self-sacrifice reflects the highest credit upon himself and upholds the esteemed traditions of the U.S. Army. for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty in Chonghyon, Korea, 5 November 1950.

At the Pentagon in April 1951, Lillian “Nellie” Red Cloud, mother of the late Cpl. Mitchell Red Cloud Jr., is handed the Medal of Honor awarded her son for his “dauntless courage and gallant self-sacrifice” against Chinese forces in North Korea the night of November 5, 1950. Gen. Omar N. Bradley, then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is at left. ” Photograph via the Stars & Stripes

In 1955 his family was able to get his body moved from the UN Cemetery to the Ho-Chunk Cemetery on the Winnebago Indian Reservation back in Wisconsin so he could lay in rest with the rest of his tribe. His friend Ed Svach escorted the body back to the US where he remembered his friend being buried in the custom of the Winnebago people. The sides of his coffin were removed so his soul could escape, a bow and quiver of arrows was laid next to him so he could hunt in heaven, and bowl of fruit was laid next to him so head would have something to eat during the journey.

Mitchell Red Cloud Jr.’s grave in Wisconsin. Picture via FindaGrave.com

In John McCain’s book, “Why Courage Matters: The Way to a Braver Life” he includes quotes from veterans from the battle that say they owe their lives to Mitchell Red Cloud. One of the survivors, Pete Salter said that during the battle he prayed to God in his foxhole to let him survive this fight and he would live a better life. He said his prayers were answered by Mitchell Red Cloud who sacrificed his life so many other men could survive. Salter in the mid-1960’s would take his kids to the Winnebago Indian Reservation to see the grave of Corporal Red Cloud. Salter broke down crying at the site of the grave of the man who had saved his life. Inscribed on Red Cloud’s grave are these words:

“The son of a Winnebago chief and warriors who believe that when a man goes into battle, he expects to kill, or be killed and if he dies he will live forever.”

Picture of marker above Mitchell Red Cloud’s grave site in Wisconsin. Picture via FindaGrave.com

Since Corporal Red Cloud’s death, the US military has made efforts to ensure that his memory does live forever by naming various military installations and equipment in his hnor. The first thing that I could find that was named after Red Cloud was when Camp Red Cloud in Uijongbu, South Korea was named after the Medal of Honor recipient.

Mitchell’s Club on Camp Red Cloud is named after him as well.  There is also a rifle range on Ft. Benning, Georgia that is named after him. On August 7th, 1999 the newly commissioned strategic sealift ship, the USNS Red Cloud was launched from its dock in San Diego in honor of the fallen warrior. His daughter Annita Red Cloud, his granddaughter Tris Yellow Cloud, and other dignitaries from the Ho-Chunk tribe were there for the ceremony.  Kenneth Kershaw, a veteran of E Company, 19th Infantry, who was able to survive the battle that night also attended the ceremony. He simply told the crowd that he attended the ceremony because “If it were not for the alarm sounded by Mitchell Red Cloud, I would not be here today.” The last commemoration I can find for Red Cloud was on the 50th anniversary of his death in 2000. The Korean War Commemoration Committee held a ceremony in honor of Red Cloud at his grave site in Black River Falls, Wisconsin. The committee presented Red Cloud’s daughter Annita with the Republic of Korea War Service Medal that had recently been authorized by Congress for Korean War veterans to wear.

USNS Red Cloud.  Picture via Navy.mil

Despite these attempts by the military to honor Corporal Red Cloud within the American public and even the US military his story is widely unknown. Red Cloud’s life story is why I have continued to advocate for Hollywood to explore using stories from the Korean War as movie material. A movie based around E Company with Mitchell Red Cloud as a main character and climaxing with the Battle of Hill 123 would make for a great movie.  Red Cloud’s life is one to be remembered not just for his Korean War service, but for his service in World War II as well. There probably are not many US military servicemembers that fought at Guadalcanal and Okinawa during World War II and then the Busan Perimeter and then finally against the Chinese during their intervention into the Korean War. Clearly Mitchell Red Cloud Jr. is not only a Hero of the Korean War, but one of the nation’s most heroic military heroes that unfortunately few people know anything about.

Note #1: More stories about Heroes of the Korean War can be read at the below link:

Note #2: During my research I found only the two above photographs of Mitchell Red Cloud.  If anyone knows of more photographs of Red Cloud please leave a link in the comments section.

Note #3: If anyone knows where to find a picture of PFC Joseph Balboni I would like to post his picture here as well.

Note #4: If anyone knows of any other buildings or site named after Mitchell Red Cloud Jr. please leave a comment and share it with everyone else.

Further Reading:

History.net: Mitchell Red Cloud Jr.: Korean War Hero

Marine Raider Page: Mitchell Red Cloud

“From the Hudson to the Yalu”, by Harry Maihafer

“Why Courage Matters: The Way to a Braver Life”, by John McCain

“Medicine Bags & Dog Tags”, by Al Carroll

“Warriors In Uniform: The Legacy of American Indian Heroism”, by Herman Viola

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